Friday, February 6, 2009

Mr. Monk and the Second Bracketing Paradox

I have always enjoyed the television show Monk, unfortunately the writing seems to have taken a nose dive the past couple of seasons. Linguistically, I enjoyed the example of a bracketing paradox in the show two weeks ago (which I posted about); however, when the show from last week included another example of a bracketing paradox it dawned on me that the writers are getting desperate. The writers are resorting to linguistic tricks to help them get a laugh and using the same trick twice in a row just doesn't work (even if the dialogue is delivered by guest star Bob Costas).

Bob Costas, playing himself in the episode, tells Captain Stottlemeyer the story about how Monk saved him from a "demented cat salesman" ten years ago. Of course most viewers would automatically assume that the cat salesman was demented; however, Costas goes on to explain that the cat salesman sold demented cats.

[[demented][cat salesman]]
[[demented cat][salesman]]

2 comments:

Neal said...

I'd say this and the other one you posted about are not bracketing paradoxes, but attachment ambiguities. A bracketing paradox involves just one meaning, but with conflicting structures assigned depending on whether you're going by semantics or morphophonology.

Laura Payne said...

Hi Neal -

Sorry it took me so long to post your comment. I have been on vacation with no internet service.

I read your posts on attachment ambiguities (http://literalminded.wordpress.com/category/semantics/ambiguity/attachment-ambiguity/)and I agree that that is a more accurate description of what is occurring in these examples. Unfortunately, "attachment ambiguity" was not a term that was used in any of my linguistics textbooks at the time I was in school so "bracketing paradox" it was.

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